Monday, 13 June 2016

Plastic Karaoke Band

This piece was inspired by watching the Eurovision Song Contest, go ahead and judge me because I simply don't care. As I mentioned in my last post, this is another of those pieces I wrote for Forces Of Geek and have been far too busy/lazy to post on my blog. It was written just after the Eurovision Song Contest which was on the 14th May but in my defence, despite this being almost a month later, I genuinely have been busy - I've been attending MCM London Comic Con as a guest speaking on the VidFest stage, doing paid writing work and simultaneously writing and working upcoming filming projects as well as helping to finalise our (Cheesemint Productions) first feature film. Phew, that was a lot and I definitely haven't been spending my time playing Fallout 4...much. 

I love the Eurovision Song Contest and I have always enjoyed its over-the-top, outlandish, cheesiness! This year it was broadcast to America too, meaning my stateside friends were finally able to tune in and appreciate - or recoil in horror at - the complete and utter madness that unfolds every year as musicians and singers from all over Europe (and for last two years, Australia - don't ask) compete to win.

During the contest this year, several of my friends were hosting Eurovision parties that involved eating different European foods (mainly various cheeses...), taking part in sweepstakes, donning flag face paint and generally just enjoying watching the show together.

Some even held their own Eurovision's by hosting karaoke parties using video games like Rock Band, Singstar and various iterations of these.

This group definitely wouldn't look out of place at Eurovision
It got me thinking about musical games in general, mainly how much they have fallen out of favour over the last 10 years. Many of my friends were using their microphones and plastic instruments for the first time in years (that's a lot of dead skin particles to clean off).

Much like the sad, lonely, forgotten about Wii Balance Board and that copy of Wii Fit that we've all either sold, given away or hidden away in our attics, musical games just aren't as used as they once were.

Rock Band 4: Rock Bandier than the last 3...4...5...or however many games there were.
It used to be that setting up Rock Band at your party was all you needed to do to ensure it was a great night. Suddenly, video games had edged their way into being a party activity! Despite this, nowadays they are less popular and maybe that's because when they first hit the gaming scene, they added an element of novelty which has now worn off? I mean, almost every household has at some point owned at least one kind of musical or singing-based game and ultimately, once you had played one, you had basically played them all.

Not as good as Cow Bell Hero, but a classic nonetheless!
DLC in the form of extra songs and one-off band-specific titles were only a draw for die-hard music fans. I purchased The Beatles: Rock Band because I am a massive fan. Ultimately though, I already owned Rock Band and would have happily paid for some of The Beatles songs in the games marketplace instead.

Admittedly, the game was a true love letter to the band and included lots of cool visuals and extra audio content which fans like myself very much appreciated, that and the cool replica Harrison and McCartney guitars were a nice touch.

Though, there is only so long before playing the guitar solo to 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' over and over gets tedious and what was once your favourite song and perhaps the greatest George Harrison song ever, will eventually transform, leaving you with painful memories of cramped hands, aching wrists and all the rage because you missed just ONE note on Expert setting.

Seriously,  the visuals and 'music videos' in this game were absolutely gorgeous!
Other one-band variations were available but only really had draw for the most fervent fans, I like a lot of Van Halen songs, I'd even go as far as calling myself a fan but I wasn't up for parting with my hard earned money for a Guitar Hero game devoted entirely to Eddie, Dave and co. especially when I own Rock Band and last year, several Van Halen songs were added to the marketplace catalogue, anyway.

It might be the over-saturation that killed the market for music based games. At one point, the Guitar Hero franchise released 10 separate variations of their game in just 5 years. Talk about maximising on short-term profits! And there's DJ Hero, Band Hero, every Rock Band released to date including all their sequels, one-offs and even a Lego Rockband.

We heard you like plastic instruments so we bought you ALL the games...
While saturation is definitely a contributing factor in their demise, I don't think it's entirely to blame, it's the lack of innovation and repetitiveness of those aforementioned games too, because music games have been around for much longer than the last 10 years.

Before all of this, three years before Guitar Hero hit the scene in 2006, Nintendo gave us Donkey Konga and even earlier than that Sony gave us PaRappa The Rapper. And remember when Dance Dance Revolution hit consoles? I owned one of those cheaply made plastic dance mats and oh how I danced...or jumped around ungraciously on it.

Kick, Punch, Turn and Chop The Door!
I think Harmonix realised they needed to innovate, which is why the Rock Band franchise added a keyboard into the mix. It also worth pointing out that Activision created DJ Hero and filled the dance and hip-hop gap but other than shiny new peripherals, that's all they really had going for them. Though, there was one thing that really innovated the genre and that was the use of real instruments that taught you how to play in REAL LIFE! *Gasp*

Rock Band 3 introduced a Pro mode which mean if you bought a very specific Fender Stratocaster guitar you could actually learn to play it for real. Though, good luck finding another friend who could also afford to join you. Then there was Rocksmith, which was more of a serious, tutorial based game and as we all know, tutorials are the absolute worst parts of any game.

Rocksmith: the Educational Rock Band
Another reason these games are now more unpopular than ever is that the set lists are no longer relevant. Many of them are full of rock music by ageing artists and while I don't see this as problem and adore bands like the Foo Fighters, I'm also aware that anyone younger than me considers them old and by default, "Parent Rock". The music that's popular today doesn't lend itself well to the game mechanic; after all, folksy, soft indie rock would be really dull to play using a controller.

So, while plastic instruments are gathering dust, games like SingStar and Dance Central have grown in popularity because dancing and singing are more accessible, or they seem that way at least. SingStar...or 'Glorified Karaoke with a Limited Playlist' as I prefer to call it, lends itself to any genre, except instrumental or classical - but don't worry, Nintendo's got you covered if that's your jam - with Wii Music. What's that I hear you say? You've never heard of it? Well that might be because it sold less than 81,000 units during its first month of release.

DJ Ravi Drums 'performing' at Nintendos E3 press conference in 2008 
Another thing to consider is that over the last 10 years, while sales of plastic instruments and singing games have waned, reality talent shows have grown exponentially. I can't keep up with all of the competitive talent shows around at the moment and every country has their own version of The Voice or Pop Idol (American Idol). I know this, not because I watch them but because a high percentage of Eurovision performers were actually discovered on these shows.

I wonder if a special Eurovision SingStar edition was released, if I might just be stupid enough to spend some of that hard earned money of mine on it.

(Oh no, I just google searched, 'Eurovision SingStar' - it turns out, they have actually released previous years Eurovision songs as DLC...goodbye, hard earned money).

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